Oh yes. wd-50. Big change of plans. We were sad when the guy at the door of Sugar Sweet Sunshine shook his head, “no” to us, pointing to the “Closed” sign, blocking us from devouring a serving (or two) of piggy pudding and luscious red velvet cake. But alas. Some things were meant to be. Tonight the gods decided we would’t be eating $3 sugary American confections but an elaborate 5-coure dessert tasting at wd-50.
I never even considered eating at the restaurant considering the high cost of the tasting menu (I could buy more than 60 of Mamoun’s falafels at that price!). But this was so worth it. Everything from the service to the last bite of curried chocolate almonds was simply flawless. Robyn and I stood outside the restaurant front for a good 10 minutes debating whether to go in or not. It didn’t help that the tasting wasn’t priced so we walked in and politely inquired about the prices. But once we were entered, we were sucked in. How could we NOT stay? So we did. It did not take long to be seated as a reservation didn’t show up (thank you, whoever you may be).
We’ll start with these crackers which I don’t think we were supposed to have unless ordering a full dinner. But it never hurts to ask and our super nice waiter was more than happy to bring over a “box.” Light, airy and just a tad salty, these were nice but nothing to go home raving over.
First taste. Celery root sorbet atop a bed of magic black raisins with peanut dust. They weren’t really “magic” raisins, but both of us had a rather difficult time retaining the minute long description of the dessert the waited spilled with such ease. They’re known as “magic” to us becuase that’s what they taste like. An odd combo by any standard, but it WORKED. “Holy crap,” we both muttered, attempting to understand how celery sorbet could elicit such senses in your tastebud you never knew to exist. The sorbet was borderline minty, cool, you could almost claim it was crispy. A tiny scoop dusted with salted peanut powder and a single plump sweet raisin was blissful. I suspect the raisin may have been briefly cooked in butter, like they do for indian rice puddings, it was moist and sticky, the skin taut – ready to burst but holding out for the bite of the lucky recipient. Note: food pics credits goes to Robyn’s Flick site - master food photographer!
The next taste was manchego cheesecake rolled in graham cracker crumbs. A light pineapple foam and a brittle manchego cracker finished off the cheesecake portion of the taste. Though the custardy textured cake with semi savory bits of graham crackers and foam that disapeared in your mouth took me to unexpected degrees of happiness it was the chopped quice and THYME SAUCE that I remember. The tiny square of quince felt cool again the heat of my tongue and sunk into a bite mingled with soft cheesecake. But why thyme? What made Sam Mason put thyme and cheesecake together? And not just thyme leaf, but thick, intense thyme SAUCE. Magic!
Mustard ice cream. Holy crap. The first taste when straight to my head. It BURNED. I never though a day would come where ice cream would BURN me. And if attacking my head wasn’t enough, it then went down to my and sizzled. Such is the power of mustard ice cream. I did not know if I liked it on the first bite. But by the second and third, my brain kept on say, “bring it on!” I do not feel as if the coconut foam did accentuated the mustard ice cream in any way, though it paired comfortably with sweetened cuts of braised pineapple and a crunchy rolled pineapple tuile. The mustard sauce was distinct, though more mellow in flavor. But the ice cream was intense. It was odd. And it took over everything. And things that are odd appeal to me. I doubt I’d have a whole pint of mustard ice cream, because honestly, it was really as if you were eating cold sweet creamy mustard, but I could find myself craving a scoop or two from time to time.
I love french toast. And I love it more when something unexpected is done to a traditional favorite. Like…making a tiny square of toast so good that that itty bitty cube is enough to be satisfying. Crisp like the buttered bun of Pearl’s lobster roll, but sweet and caramelized, a single bite revealing steaming hot brioche like dough. Put that aside a scoop of creamy brown butter ice cream, smooth and sinful, the flavor wasn’t particularly strong, could it be that it was purposely done to make room for the brittle thin raisin sheet – tasting of nothing other than pure sweet raisins in a dry crunchy form? Or maybe it was so that the bubbly heat of the wobbly brown sugar and raisin gelee (we’re still trying to figure out if it was raisin or brown sugar or raisin and brown sugar flavored…leave it to us…all we know is that it was fantastic). On the surface of the plate was a wide swoosh of a thick raisin sauce. Tastes much better than I made it sound. What did he do? I kept asking myself. The only thing I tasted was raisins. Just raisins. Made into sauce.
Alas, all good things must come to an end and our fifth course arrived before we knew it. All I can say is, why don’t more places serve butternut squash ice cream? I suppose I can’t blame them because it wasn’t until I tasted this creation that I realized that butternut squash and ice cream make the bestest combo in the world. Only at wd-50 they took the awesome and made it mind blowing. A football shaped scoop of butternut squash ice cream sat ever so contently on a bed of chocolate soil spotted with little toasty squash seeds. Supporting the ice cream was a rectangle of pumpkin cake. A delicate whaloomph of mole toffee finished off the dish. Every texture you could want was in this dish. The soft and grainy chocolate soil, barely salted to alert your tastebuds accentuated each perfect pop of squash seeds. They honestly went “POP” in your mouth. It was almost scary, but too delicious to be scary. I was a a little letdown by the pumpkin cake which tasted only of soft cake, not pumpkin-ey at all. The mole was dark, dare I say spciy with a definite chocolate undertone. Bbbbbrrrrring me more!
And just when we thought out meal was over, the waiter brought over a spectacular bowl of puffy goodness – ginger cotton candy. It was like ordinary cotton candy, only spun lighter and infused with an intense flavor of ginger. Pastry chef Sam Mason knows his flavors and when he says something is “mustard” or “celery” or “ginger” – it’s exactly that. He doesn’t fool you like those black sesame wasabi Vosges chocolate bars that barely hint of the claimed flavors. He delivers the real thing and that is perhaps what makes his dishes most attractive.
Minutes after the cotton candy came a small dish of caramelized almonds covered in dark chocolate and rolled in curry powder. Kept at cool room temperature, every bite mingling the slightly spicy flavors of curry with a bitter smooth chocolate and the crunch of caramel enrobing the roasted almond was, for lack of better words, sheer awesome!
We would have been satisfied right there. But there was more to come. Like…GOING INTO THE KITCHEN, MEETING SAM MASON, WATCHING HIM PLATE DESSERTS and TAKING A PICTURE WITH HIM (I almost passed out when he put his hand on my shoulder…ahh the gifted hand of a pastry chef). Robyn and I stood there watching him deftly spoon scoops of mustard ice cream, arrange a wildly structured shell of chocolate mole and spoon coconut foam over a banana based creation. He spoke a little about his inspirations and the work hours…much of which I don’t remember becuase I was so excited simply to be there. IN HIS PRESENCE. How did this happen? The evening was so perfect but I felt it would be a waste to be SO close, literally, feets away from the kitchen and not see the pastry chef. So I asked our waiter. And he said yes. The people here are so nice I want to hug them all (although they might get a bit scared of me). We left nearly $50 poorer, but I do it again in a flash. I never felt so welcome and well taken care of in a restaurant. We had about three different waiters, all who treated us as well, or even better than the dinners doing tasting menus that cost at least three times what we spent.
And that was the end of my first night here for spring break.
50 Clinton Street
NY, NY 10002